Learn about your customer’s subconscious: think of a close friend

This post has been rewritten and moved to. http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/11/imagine-what-makes-your-customers-tick/

May the force be with you

I was talking to a marketing friend Steve Semple about the benefits for people who buy the book I’m working on: All the writing they do at work will become easier and more effective. Simple and straightforward.

But what about the unexpected benefits? he asked.

Huh?

Steve talked about Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker gains the obvious benefits of rescuing the princess and defeating the villain.

The unexpected benefit, Steve pointed out, was learning about the “force,” the energy that binds the galaxy and bestows supernatural powers on those who harness it.

That got me thinking. What is the force for people who write? I don’t mean just the stars who create masterpieces, but writers like me who are good enough to earn a living or the people who write well enough to travel our cyber galaxy, the world wide web.

What are the supernatural powers we gain from harnessing the force?

The force lets me meet new people and build relationships outside of my neighbourhood, family, friends and other groups who dwell in my nook of the earth. It lets me express and spread thoughts and expertise for other people too.

Sometimes the force gives me supernatural powers to help people understand and respect each other. Occasionally I master the force so well I can reveal truths and touch hearts.

I guess the unexpected benefit I’d like to give people through this blog or my book is to introduce them to the force of writing. Very few of us will climb to artistic heights. But better writing can help us all understand each other a little better. That is a Jedi force.

However, we must be aware that, just like in Stars Wars, the force can be used for both good, as in bringing people together or raising awareness and funds for good causes, or bad, as in child pornography, jihadism, fraud and the other evils of the world wide web.

Fortunately, most of us harness the force of writing for good.

So tell me, fellow writers and world wide web travelers, how you do harness the force and what good does that do?

The two habits of highly fast writers

I am a fast writer. Fingers flying, I can dash through a post or other assignment.

While I’ve always suspected that some of my speed at writing, talking and much more may come from a genetic neurological blip, I know that much of it comes from some habits that have evolved from pressures at work to crank out quality content quickly.

Let me call them the two habits of highly fast writers, sort of like the famous seven habits of highly effective people.

1. Before you start writing, think about who you’re writing for, what you want to say and whether you’re to write it in tips, a story or other approach. You will more than make up the time spent on this quick thinking from the faster writing it makes possible

Thinking doesn’t have to take much time, though people writing long treatises about complex subjects may wish to prepare an outline. Most of the time, I simply spend a minute or two thinking, sometimes jotting down a few notes.

If I don’t think things through, I can still write quickly. But the results are not pretty. I spend so much time rewriting that I waste scads of time, which defeats the whole purpose of writing quickly.

Writing without thinking first is like going on a road trip without first studying a map. You will miss out on the most scenic route and the sites worth stopping for. You will have no clue about short cuts. You will get lost.

What’s more, because you remember the route from reading the map, you will be free to concentrate on the road ahead, which brings me to my second habit.

2. Focus on what your brain is telling your fingers to type.

Do not be distracted by checking back with your research. Often I paste the research notes I know I’m going to need in the document before I begin. Other times, I work from memory, where the most important ideas are stored, and check back when I revise.

Do not answer the telephone, check emails, listen to music, tweet or do anything else during this enthralling time.

If you work in an office, put a “Do not disturb” sign on your door. Better still, work from home if you can when you have something important to write.

Some people have the steely discipline that allows them to concentrate in the midst of chaos. But most of us need to exit that scene.

Like pushing away intrusive thoughts when you’re trying to meditate, you will have to actively resist inner distractions. Silence any inner critics who try to tell you to write properly, whether it’s your high school English teacher and some vaguely remembered rules or the jargon that everyone at work seems to speak.

The more you focus, the easier it is. Thoughts of your mean boss, that nagging pain, the chocolate bar in your drawer, the dry cleaning, space and time will also fade.

The only drawback to writing quickly is the greater need to revise. You have to revise anyways. It probably won’t add significantly to your revising time to ferret out the typos and word fog that may sneak in. Fixing these mistakes is a small price to pay for the gain in speed, quality and fun.

Yes, I said fun. Once you’ve thought through your main ideas, you can switch off the logical side of your brain and turn on the fun creative side. It’s exhilarating.

That’s my two cents, think and focus. Do you have any more habits that help you write quality content quickly? Please share.

Boost interest by writing like Conan dissing NBC

1. Fear of writing is second only to fear of public speaking, studies confirm.

2. Joe is one of those guys who would give you his sandwich if you forgot your lunch. Too bad sharing his expertise on x protocols doesn’t come so easily.

Sorry about the tricks, but I wanted to make some points about how to be an interesting writer at work.

My first draft head was straightforward but boring until I added the bit about Conan, to demonstrate how to add interest to a title by relating it to a controversial, magnetic celebrity. If you came here for dirt on Conan, you can stop reading, though I must confess I enjoyed his rant the other night.

The Conan-NBC showdown also highlights how conflict makes life–and writing–more interesting. Do not try the celebrity hook too often, unless it’s relevant. Or you’ll anger the Google gods.

As for my leads, I made up the study about the fear of writing. I wanted to point out how dramatic facts can make for an interesting intro.

I also made up Joe, though I know many people like him, who need to learn how to share their knowledge through the written word. The quick anecdote was intended to attract people who can relate to his dilemma.

Of course, there are other ways to lift your writing from dull to dazzling. We hear many of them in scintillating conversations.

Greater talkers:
*use colorful phrases
*provide me with new meaningful or exotic information
*talk about me
*express ideas clearly
*paint vivid pictures
*employ pleasing rhythm and pacing
*challenge my point of view
*tell stories well
*are funny
*compare and contrast
*push controversial opinions
*pick fights
*make dramatic or outrageous assertions
*touch hearts

Any more you can think of?

Unlike writers, talkers can add interest through voice tone and gestures. For writing, think of the equivalent, such as using bolding to emphasize a point or an ellipsis to indicate a pause…

The advantage of writing over talking is that you can write things in your first draft that you would be embarrassed to say out loud. Unlike talking, you get to revise and tone it down if you’re not comfortable.

So next time you’re getting bored with your own writing, try going over the top on the first draft. Have some fun. Have sober second thoughts when you revise.

There is no way around the need to create interest through your writing. Most of us compete for readers’ attention many times a day, whether it’s an email inviting people to your meeting a proposal that must stand out from the crowd.

If you don’t generate interest at the starting line, few people will read you. If you don’t continue with interest, fewer will trudge through to the finish.

You cannot sound like a dentist in the middle of a cleaning and wonder why no one seems to have read, understood or acted on your email, report, post or other written words. Besides, writing for interest is a lot more fun.

He/she/it/they drives/drive me crazy: my last grammar target

I’ve left he/she/it/they to the last of my three-pronged attack on bad grammar because it’s more difficult.

Even so, I have come up with an easy tip: Use “they” when you’re referring to a singular subject if you are referring to a general subject, such as the team, the client or the user, but only if it’s easier for the reader to understand and doesn’t offend any grammar-stickler target readers and especially if it lets you avoid being sexist.

Okay, so it’s not as brief as my earlier tips on contractions and sound-alikes and me, myself and I and that, who, which. But this is trickier. Let me explain.

Most people are fine with this example: “The team won the award because they are so good at customer service.” Although “team” is singular, they know that the term refers to more than one person.

However, this may not be the best solution if you are writing for people who care about grammar. For them, you’re wise to turn “team” into a plural, as in “The team members won because they… ” You could refer to the team as “it” but that would be dehumanizing.

Turning a singular into a plural also lets you side step the awkward “he or she.”

Sadly, sometimes you can’t simply tack on a word like “members” to make the subject plural. For example, “The client sent their best regards.” Let’s assume the client refers to a company, not an individual. “Their” works. Besides, unless I was referring to a specific individual, “sent his (or her) best regards,” would be sexist.

A year ago, I would have balked at writing “the client sends their best regards.” After years of resistance and too many awkward “he or she”s, I’ve slacked off. I was relieved to see in the comments on the recent Copyblogger grammar post that many people agree it’s time to move on.

Like society, language evolves. As long the changes don’t impair our ability to understand each other, it’s all good. Don’t you agree?

The war on bad grammar: the two biggest, easiest targets

This post has been updated and moved to: http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/07/operation-bad-grammar-the-biggest-easiest-targets/

Tell me a very short story: 8 tips

This post has been updated and moved to http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2010/10/how-to-write-stories-that-dont-produce-yawns/